Janet Wenholz remembers the day well. The year was 1972. After picking her up from the airport in San Jose, California, her husband Bill revealed the surprise he had in store – a 1966 BMW R60/2.
“What do you think of the bike?” Bill asked.
Of course she replied she liked it. She liked it even more when Bill told her it was hers, jokingly adding that now she “owed him $750.”
The next day, the Wenholzs went to Laguna Seca. Races were going on that day, and since they lived nearby, her and Bill went to go check out the action. Watching the racers lap the track, she swore that one day she was going to ride her R60/2 on the track.
Forty-two years later, that dream came true. On Friday, May 16, Janet did indeed turn a wheel on the fabled raceway onboard that very same 1966 BMW R60/2. She was participating in the sixth annual Quail Motorcycle Ride, and one of the perks of the Quail ride is being able to take a few parade laps on Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Remarkably, she still owned the same motorcycle, the BMW running as good as ever.
“It was awesome,” she said afterward, still wearing a perma-grin from her time on the track.
Janet wasn’t the only one reveling in her first ride on Laguna Seca. Another rider we met, Matt, was stoked for the opportunity to take his Triumph Street Triple on-track for the very first time. After owning a Triumph America for some time, he was looking for something with a bit more pep in its step and had just purchased his Street Triple about two weeks prior. But there’s more to his story.
Around 115 riders took part in the 2014 Quail Motorcycle Ride, an annual celebration of both vintage and modern machinery in beautiful Carmel Valley.
It was thumbs up from this happy couple who were all geared up and ready to ride.
Forty-two years after getting her BMW R60/2, Janet Wenholz fulfilled a promise to herself and rode her motorcycle on Laguna Seca.
The guys from British Customs, ‘Why We Ride’ directors Bryan Carroll and James Walker, and Triumph’s Larry Fletcher and Sarah Lahalih stand with the award winning BC 2014 Dirt Bike scrambler.
The road through Carmel Valley is fairly technical, something the owner of this Norton Commando 850 found out the hard way.
Matt, who asked that his last name not be published, is one of the brave men serving our country in the US Armed Forces and is stationed in Monterey. Last week, he had his radio tuned into local radio personality Axle who was hyping the Quail Motorcycle Gathering going on that weekend in Carmel and mentioned there was a group of Triumph riders coming up the coast to attend the event.
That’s when Matt began sleuthing. Even though he admitted he’s not a Facebook type of guy, he set about using Google, Facebook and Twitter to track the entourage. He learned that the group included the guys from British Customs, the producers of “Why We Ride,” a couple of representatives from Triumph, and yours truly. We had been making our way up the coast, stopping at moto-destinations like Deus Ex Machina and Iron & Resin along the way. About halfway between Hearst Castle and the Ragged Point Convenience Store, he found us! We welcomed him to the group and he rode the rest of the way to Carmel with us. The next day, he joined our group once again for the Quail Motorcycle Ride, relishing in the opportunity to spin a few laps at Laguna.
And that is part of the beauty of the Quail Motorcycle Ride. Just about every bike and rider here has a story. Some of the motorcycles in the ride come with racing pedigrees. Others tell the tale of barn-finds and how the restoration process is one of love and aggravation. Still others hold rights to exclusivity as one-off custom builds. The ride serves as an avenue for motorcycles worthy of display in museums to be fired to life once again, to cough, sputter, and spit oil once more, to play a symphony to the internal combustion engine through “Brooklyn” cans and “Highgate” silencers.
The 2014 Quail Motorcycle Ride started on a sun-splashed morning in Carmel Valley, the surrounding hills painted green by spring, the air cool but not cold. The serenity was broken by the cacophony of 115 motorcycles being fired up at the same time, the group eager to embark on a 110-mile journey to Laguna Seca, through the nutrient-rich fields of Salinas Valley before riding through the vineyard-laden Carmel Valley. It was a parade-like atmosphere as the procession pulled out, people waving from the side of the road, cameras snapping photos as we departed from the Quail Motorcycle Lodge.
I settled in behind a puttering black bike, marveling every time the rider took his hand off the right grip to reach down by the tank and shift the bike. From behind I couldn’t figure out the make, but knew it was old by the rollicking of its engine and grey smoke screen it left behind. Transfixed, I followed it for a mile or so until I huffed enough of its smoke to think I was back at a Grateful Dead concert again, so I gassed the British Customs Tribute Triumph tracker I was on and motored by. Later I would learn it was a 1927 Scott Flying Squirrel, the oldest motorcycle entered in this year’s ride.
While laps on Laguna Seca have traditionally come at the end of the Quail Motorcycle Ride, the track had the Ferrari Challenge booked for later that same afternoon, so instead it became the first stop of the day. Waiting for our chance to take the track, it was an eclectic bunch around me, from the Morgan West three-wheeler directly in front of me to the CB350 behind me to the Harley with apehangers and a sky-scraping sissy bar not far away.
Seeing how all the motorcycles were unleashed on the track at the same time, the first lap was a true parade lap, bikes four to five wide stretching as far as you could see. But when we hit the first straightaway, the more powerful bikes got a chance to open it up, bikes spread out, and the group thinned. Time for fun. That first dash down Laguna’s straight had gotten the blood pumping, the British Customs Tribute tracker quick to respond to every twist of its throttle, the magic Jason Panther worked with a new intake, pipes and mapping making it much more livelier than a stock Bonneville engine should be. The bike’s flat track tires were gripping like glue no matter what the lean angle, and before you know it we’re dicing it out friendly-style with the BMW sport-tourer of MotoLink and others. Seems like any time I took a wide line in a corner, here came The Vintagent’s Paul d’Orleans buzzing up the inside of turns like an angry hornet on his Velocette. What he lacked in power he made up for in enthusiasm and cornering, holding some of the tightest lines. By the time track operators signaled us off course, we had spun several laps in 12 minutes of riding bliss on Laguna Seca. And though I’ve ridden four different bikes in four years of attending the Quail, flogging the BC Tribute bike on the track was the funnest yet.
From there it was on to Robert Talbott Vineyards for our second pit stop. Talbott is a huge enthusiast and collector who yearly not only participates in the ride but graciously hosts the group at his tasting room. His estate is beautiful, from the grapevines that stretch in every direction to the giant wooden barrels inside the hall full of the fermented elixir. The break provides an opportunity to engage in friendly banter and for owners of feisty old machines with tiny tanks and big attitudes a much-needed splash of fuel. Next to me, a rider pulls in on a blue and white Vyrus, a slice of Italian moto-exotica known for its hub-steering. This one happens to be the ultra-rare Vyrus Superlegerra, we believe the only one with the NCR 1200cc big bore engine. From what we understand, it has a handmade titanium Ducati Corse valve train that doesn’t even have a part number. This is one bike we wish we would have gotten its full story, but proves you never know what you’re going to see on the Quail Motorcycle Ride.
When it was time to depart Talbott’s, the procession was divided into two, the majority of motorcycles pulling out first while many of the older bikes left soon after. Since we were in no hurry, we rolled out with the latter group, as watching old machines once again on the road is part of the beauty of the Quail. We settled in behind a BMW R60/2 equipped with a sidecar as we rambled over the winding roads of Carmel Valley. What a treat it was watching the rider work that machine, leaning into turns to keep the tire of the sidecar weighted and on the ground. We witnessed him doing the delicate dance when the wheel did lift into the air one time, saw the skill with which he brought it back down and recognized the
Cycle World Editor-in-Chief Mark Hoyer does some mid-ride tuning to his Velocette during our stop at Talbott Winery.
It’s not everyday you get to park next to an ultra-exotic motorcycle like this hub-steered Vyrus.
constant finessing it required in turns to keep it from drifting over the centerline. At the end of the ride, we learned the BMW sidecar belonged to Bill Wenholz, the husband of Janet, the elated lady who early that day fulfilled her 42-year-old promise to herself.
We weren’t the only ones to recognize Wenholz’s machine. During the luncheon at Baja Cantina after the ride, Bill and his sidehack were awarded “Pick of the Ride.” He said he’s owned the sidecar since 1975, and though it’s connected to a BMW R60/2, he put the engine from an R90/6 in it. That 1927 Scott Flying Squirrel we mentioned that was smoking us out at the beginning of the ride? It also earned an award after being selected as “Best Vintage Bike of the Ride.” The final award of the ride went to our friends at British Customs who received the honors for its 2014 Triumph Scrambler Dirt Bike. The bike held its own at Laguna Seca despite being shod in knobby tires, and had proven itself even further the day before on a 350-day journey up the California coast.
While it was fun times for most, there were two incidents during the ride, one involving a Norton Commando 850 that ran off-road. Fortunately, damage was light and the riders suffered bigger bruises to their egos than their bodies. But Gordon McCall and the Quail Events crew had more support than ever before from the California Highway Patrol and were prepared for just about every scenario.
Coming over a rise in the road and seeing a quarter-mile-long cavalcade of motorcycles stretched out brings about a sense of being a part of something bigger than yourself, a cell in a larger organism, an organism in this case of metal and motorcycles comprising the entity known as the Quail Motorcycle Ride.